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Grapes Grown in a Designated Area of Southeastern California; Establishment of Safeguards and Procedures for Suspension of Packing Holidays

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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Start Preamble

AGENCY:

Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.

ACTION:

Interim final rule with request for comments.

SUMMARY:

This rule establishes safeguards and procedures for the suspension of packing holidays prescribed under the California grape marketing order (order). The order regulates the handling of grapes grown in a designated area of Southeastern California and is administered locally by the California Desert Grape Administrative Committee (Committee). The procedures and safeguards will be used by the Committee when considering and making decisions on packing holiday suspension requests. Additionally, this rule clarifies existing maturity requirements for Flame Seedless variety grapes and corrects errors in the regulatory text regarding references to the California Code of Regulations (CCR).

DATES:

Effective date: April 23, 2003; Comment period: comments received by June 23, 2003, will be considered prior to issuance of a final rule.

ADDRESSES:

Interested persons are invited to submit written comments concerning this rule. Comments must be sent to the Docket Clerk, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., STOP 0237, Washington, DC 20250-0237; Fax: (202) 720-8938, or E-mail: moab.docketclerk@usda.gov. All comments should reference the docket number and the date and page number of this issue of the Federal Register and will be made available for public inspection in the Office of the Docket Clerk during regular business hours, or can be viewed at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/​fv/​moab.html.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Rose Aguayo, California Marketing Field Office, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, 2202 Monterey Street, suite 102B, Fresno, California 93721; telephone: (559) 487-5901, Fax: (559) 487-5906; or George Kelhart, Technical Advisor, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., STOP 0237, Washington, DC 20250-0237; telephone: (202) 720-2491, Fax: (202) 720-8938.

Small businesses may request information on complying with this regulation by contacting Jay Guerber, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., STOP 0237, Washington, DC 20250-0237; telephone: (202) 720-2491, Fax: (202) 720-8938, or E-mail: Jay.Guerber@usda.gov.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

This rule is issued under Marketing Order No. 925 (7 CFR part 925), regulating the handling of grapes grown in California, hereinafter referred to as the “order.” The order is effective under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, as amended (7 U.S.C. 601-674), hereinafter referred to as the “Act.”

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is issuing this rule in conformance with Executive Order 12866.

This rule has been reviewed under Executive Order 12988, Civil Justice Reform. This rule is not intended to have retroactive effect. This rule will not preempt any State or local laws, regulations, or policies, unless they present an irreconcilable conflict with this rule.

The Act provides that administrative proceedings must be exhausted before parties may file suit in court. Under section 608c(15)(A) of the Act, any handler subject to an order may file with USDA a petition stating that the order, any provision of the order, or any obligation imposed in connection with Start Printed Page 19709the order is not in accordance with law and request a modification of the order or to be exempted therefrom. A handler is afforded the opportunity for a hearing on the petition. After the hearing USDA would rule on the petition. The Act provides that the district court of the United States in any district in which the handler is an inhabitant, or has his or her principal place of business, has jurisdiction to review USDA's ruling on the petition, provided an action is filed not later than 20 days after the date of the entry of the ruling.

This rule establishes safeguards and procedures for suspension of packing holidays prescribed under the California grape order. The explicitly stated procedures and safeguards will be used for all requests received to suspend packing holidays. Additionally, this rule clarifies existing maturity requirements for Flame Seedless variety grapes and corrects errors in the regulatory text regarding references to the CCR.

Establishment of Safeguards and Procedures for Suspension of Packing Holidays

Section 925.52(a)(5) of the grape order provides authority to establish holidays by prohibiting the packing of all varieties of grapes during a specified period or periods.

Section 925.304(e) of the order's rules and regulations provides that the Committee may suspend the prohibition against packing or repacking grapes on any Saturday, Sunday, or on the Memorial Day or Independence Day holidays of each year, to permit the handling of grapes provided such handling complies with procedures and safeguards specified by the Committee.

A decision by an Administrative Law Judge on November 7, 2002, invalidated the authority for the Committee to suspend or modify packing holidays, because there were no safeguards or procedures established for the Committee to follow when it makes its decisions on whether to suspend packing holidays.

As a result, the Committee met on December 12, 2002, and recommended specifying the following safeguards and procedures for the suspension of packing holidays to § 925.304(e) of the order's rules and regulations: (1) All requests for suspension of a packing holiday shall be in writing, shall state the reasons the suspension is being requested, and shall be submitted to the Committee manager by noon on Wednesday or at least 3 days prior to the requested suspension date; (2) upon receipt of a written request, the Committee manager shall promptly give reasonable notice to producers and handlers and to USDA that an assembled Committee meeting will be held to discuss the request(s). A USDA representative shall attend the Committee meeting via speakerphone or in person, and all votes of the Committee members shall be cast in person; (3) the Committee members shall consider marketing conditions (i.e., supplies of competing commodities including quantities in inventory, the expected demand conditions for grapes in different markets, and any pertinent documents which provide data on market conditions), weather conditions, labor shortages, the size of the crop remaining to be marketed, and other pertinent factors in reaching a decision on whether or not to suspend packing holidays; (4) once a vote is taken, any documents utilized during the meeting will be forwarded immediately to the USDA representative and a summary of the Committee's action and reasons for recommending approval or disapproval will be prepared and also forwarded by the Committee; and (5) the USDA representative shall notify the Committee manager of approval or disapproval of the request prior to commencement of the suspended packing holiday and the Committee manager shall notify handlers and producers of USDA's decision.

In previous seasons, the Committee used informal safeguards and procedures when processing and considering requests to suspend packing holidays. The established safeguards and procedures are intended to address the concerns expressed in the administrative action. The specific safeguards and procedures will be added to § 925.304(e) of the order's administrative rules and regulations. The Committee vote was 8 in favor, 0 opposed, and 1 abstained. These revisions do not impact the grape import regulation.

Clarification/Removal of Section Numbers

Section 925.52(a)(2) of the grape order provides authority to limit the handling of any grade, size, quality, maturity, or pack of grapes differently for different varieties, or any combination of the foregoing during any period or periods.

Section 925.304(a)(2) of the grape order's administrative rules and regulations provides that grapes of the Flame Seedless variety shall be considered mature if the juice contains not less than 15 percent soluble solids and the soluble solids are equal to or in excess of 20 parts to every part acid contained in the juice in accordance with applicable sampling and testing procedures specified in sections 1436.3, 1436.5, 1436.6, 1436.7, 1436.12, and 1436.17 of the CCR. These provisions do not, but should, specify that this variety of grapes also is considered mature under the grape marketing order if the juice meets or exceeds 16.5 percent soluble solids. To correct this oversight, this rule adds language to § 925.304(a)(2) indicating that Flame Seedless variety grapes shall be considered mature if the juice meets or exceeds 16.5 percent soluble solids.

Section 925.304(b)(4) of the grape order's rules and regulations requires containers of grapes to be plainly marked with the lot stamp number corresponding to the lot inspection conducted by an authorized inspector, and specifies that such requirement shall not apply to containers in the center tier of a 3 box by 3 box pallet configuration, as provided in §§ 1460.30 and 1359 of the CCR. The references to §§ 1460.30 and 1359 were incorrectly added to § 925.304(b)(4) on August 23, 2002 (67 FR 54567). This rule removes these references from § 925.304(b)(4) and adds references to §§ 1436.30 and 1359 of the CCR to § 925.304(b)(3), as should have been done last August.

Section 925.304(f) states that certain container and pack requirements cited in the grape order are specified in the CCR and are incorporated by reference and that a notice of any change in these materials will be published in the Federal Register.

Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

Pursuant to requirements set forth in the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has considered the economic impact of this action on small entities. Accordingly, AMS has prepared this initial regulatory flexibility analysis.

The purpose of the RFA is to fit regulatory actions to the scale of business subject to such actions in order that small businesses will not be unduly or disproportionately burdened. Marketing orders issued pursuant to the Act, and the rules issued thereunder, are unique in that they are brought about through group action of essentially small entities acting on their own behalf. Thus, both statutes have small entity orientation and compatibility.

There are approximately 20 handlers of California grapes who are subject to regulation under the order and about 50 producers of grapes in the production area. Small agricultural service firms are defined by the Small Business Administration (SBA)(13 CFR 121.201) as those having annual receipts of less than $5,000,000 and small agricultural producers are defined as those having annual receipts of less than $750,000. Start Printed Page 19710Eight of the 20 handlers subject to regulation have annual grape sales of $5,000,000. In addition, 10 of the 50 producers have annual sales of at least $750,000. Therefore, a majority of handlers and producers are classified as small entities.

This rule establishes safeguards and procedures for suspension of packing holidays prescribed under the California grape order. The specification of procedures and safeguards for suspending packing holidays are expected to facilitate the Committee's discussions and decision-making on such requests received from handlers. Additionally, this rule clarifies existing maturity requirements for Flame Seedless variety grapes and corrects errors in regulatory text regarding references to the CCR.

Establishment of Safeguards and Procedures for Suspension of Packing Holidays

Section 925.304(e) of the order's rules and regulations provides that the Committee may suspend the prohibition against packing or repacking grapes on any Saturday, or Sunday, or on the Memorial Day or Independence Day holidays of each year, to permit the handling of grapes provided such handling complies with procedures and safeguards specified by the Committee.

A decision issued by an Administrative Law Judge on November 7, 2002, invalidated the authority for the Committee to suspend or modify packing holidays, because there were no safeguards or procedures established for the Committee to follow when it makes its decisions on whether to suspend packing holidays.

As a result, the Committee met on December 12, 2002, and recommended specifying the following safeguards and procedures for suspension of packing holidays to § 925.304(e) of the order's rules and regulations to the handling of such requests: (1) All requests for suspension of a packing holiday shall be in writing, shall state the reasons the suspension is being requested, and shall be submitted to the Committee manager by noon on Wednesday or at least 3 days prior to the requested suspension date; (2) upon receipt of a written request, the Committee manager shall promptly give reasonable notice to producers and handlers and to USDA that an assembled Committee meeting will be held to discuss the request(s). A USDA representative shall attend via speakerphone or in person, and all votes of the Committee members on whether or not to approve the request shall be cast in person; (3) the Committee members shall consider marketing conditions (i.e., supplies of competing commodities including quantities in inventory, the expected demand conditions for grapes in different markets, and any pertinent documents which provide data on market conditions), weather conditions, labor shortages, the size of the crop remaining to be marketed, and other pertinent factors in reaching a decision to suspend or not suspend packing holidays; (4) once a vote is taken, any documents utilized during the meeting will be forwarded immediately to the USDA representative and a summary of the Committee's action and reasons for recommending approval or disapproval will be prepared and also forwarded by the Committee; and (5) the USDA representative shall notify the Committee manager of approval or disapproval of the requested prior to commencement of the suspended packing holiday and the Committee manager shall notify handlers and producers of USDA's decision.

In previous seasons, the Committee used informal safeguards and procedures when processing and considering requests to suspend packing holidays. The established safeguards and procedures are intended to address the concerns expressed in the administrative action. The specific safeguards and procedures will be specified in § 925.304(e) of the order's administrative rules and regulations.

The Committee discussed alternatives to this change, including not making any changes, but determined that safeguards and procedures were needed to address the concerns expressed in the administrative action and to facilitate the handling of packing holiday suspension requests. The Committee vote was 8 in favor, 0 opposed, and 1 abstained. Imported grapes will not be affected by this action.

Clarification/Removal of Section Numbers

Section 925.52(a)(2) of the grape order provides authority to limit the handling of any grade, size, quality, maturity, or pack of grapes differently for different varieties, or any combination of the foregoing during any period or periods.

Section 925.304(a)(2) of the grape order's administrative rules and regulations provides that grapes of the Flame Seedless variety shall be considered mature if the juice contains not less than 15 percent soluble solids and the soluble solids are equal to or in excess of 20 parts to every part acid contained in the juice in accordance with applicable sampling and testing procedures specified in §§ 1436.3, 1436.5, 1436.6, 1436.7, 1436.12, and 1436.17 of the title 3: California Code of Regulations (CCR). These provisions do not, but should, specify that this variety of grapes also is considered mature under the grape marketing order if the juice meets or exceeds 16.5 percent soluble solids. To correct this oversight, this rule adds language to § 925.304(a)(2) indicating that Flame Seedless variety grapes shall be considered mature if the juice meets or exceeds 16.5 percent soluble solids.

Section 925.304(b)(4) of the grape order's rules and regulations requires containers of grapes to be plainly marked with the lot stamp number corresponding to the lot inspection conducted by an authorized inspector, and specifies that such requirement shall not apply to containers in the center tier of a 3 box by 3 box pallet configuration, as provided in §§ 1460.30 and 1359 of the CCR. The references to §§ 1460.30 and 1359 were incorrectly added to § 925.304(b)(4) on August 23, 2002 (67 FR 54567). This rule removes these references from § 925.304(b)(4) and adds references to §§ 1436.30 and 1359 of the CCR to § 925.304(b)(3), as should have been done last August.

Section 925.304(f) states that certain container and pack requirements cited in the grape order are specified in the CCR and are incorporated by reference and that a notice of any change in these materials will be published in the Federal Register.

This rule is in the interest of handlers, producers and consumers. These revisions do not impact the grape import regulation.

The information collection requirements for the safeguards and procedures for the suspension of packing holidays have been previously approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under OMB No. 0581-0189. As with all Federal marketing order programs, reports and forms are periodically reviewed to reduce information requirements and duplication by industry and public sector agencies.

In addition, USDA has not identified any relevant Federal rules that duplicate, overlap or conflict with this rule.

Further, the Committee's meetings were widely publicized throughout the grape industry and all interested persons were invited to attend the meetings and participate in the Committee's deliberations. Like all Committee meetings, the November 14, 2002, and the December 12, 2002, meetings were public meetings and all entities, both large and small, were able to express their views on these issues. Start Printed Page 19711

Finally, interested persons are invited to submit information on the regulatory and informational impacts of this action on small businesses.

A small business guide on complying with fruit, vegetable, and specialty crop marketing agreements and orders may be viewed at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/​fv/​moab.html. Any questions about the compliance guide should be sent to Jay Guerber at the previously mentioned address in the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section.

This rules invites comments on the addition of safeguards and procedures for suspensions of packing holidays, and clarification/removal of section numbers currently prescribed under the California grape order. Any comments received will be considered prior to finalization of this rule.

After consideration of all relevant material presented, including the Committee's recommendation and other information, it is found that this interim final rule, as hereinafter set forth, will tend to effectuate the declared policy of the Act.

Pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 553, it is also found and determined upon good cause that it is impracticable, unnecessary, and contrary to the public interest to give preliminary notice prior to putting this rule into effect and that good cause exists for not postponing the effective date of this rule until 30 days after publication in the Federal Register because: (1) This action explicitly states safeguards and procedures to facilitate Committee discussions on packing holiday suspension requests; (2) the Committee unanimously recommended the safeguards and procedures at a public meeting and interested parties had an opportunity to provide input; (3) California grape shipments begin approximately April 20, 2003, and this rule should be in effect as soon as possible; and (4) this rule provides for a 60-day comment period and any comments received will be considered prior to finalization of this rule.

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List of Subjects in 7 CFR Part 925

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For the reasons set forth in the preamble,

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PART 925—GRAPES GROWN IN A DESIGNATED AREA OF SOUTHEASTERN CALIFORNIA

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1. The authority citation for

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Authority: 7 U.S.C. 601-674.

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2. In § 925.304, paragraphs (a)(2), (b)(3), (b)(4), and (e) are revised to read as follows:

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California Desert Grape Regulation 6.
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(a) * * *

(2) Grapes of the Flame Seedless variety shall meet the minimum berry size requirement of ten-sixteenths of an inch and shall be considered mature if the juice meets or exceeds 16.5 percent soluble solids, or contains not less than 15 percent soluble solids and the soluble solids are equal to or in excess of 20 parts to every part acid contained in juice in accordance with applicable sampling and testing procedures specified in sections 1436.3, 1436.5, 1436.6, 1436.7, 1436.12, and 1436.17 of Article 25 of Title 3: California Code of Regulations (CCR).

(b) * * *

(3) Such containers of grapes shall be plainly marked with the minimum net weight of grapes contained therein (with numbers and letters at least one-fourth inch in height), the name of the variety of the grapes and the name of the shipper, as provided in §§ 1436.30 and 1359 of Title 3: California Code of Regulations.

(4) Such containers of grapes shall be plainly marked with the lot stamp number corresponding to the lot inspection conducted by an authorized inspector, except that such requirement shall not apply to containers in the center tier of a lot palletized in a 3 box by 3 box pallet configuration: Provided, That pallets of reusable plastic containers shall have the lot stamp number stamped on two USDA-approved pallet tags, each affixed to opposite sides of the pallet of containers, in addition to other required information on the cards of the individual containers.

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(e) Suspension of packing holidays. Upon recommendation of the committee and approval of the Secretary, the prohibition against packing or repacking grapes on any Saturday, Sunday or on Memorial Day or Independence Day holidays of each year, may be modified or suspended to permit the handling of grapes provided such handling complies with procedures and safeguards specified by the committee as follows:

(1) All requests for suspension of a packing holiday shall be in writing, shall state the reasons the suspension is being requested, and shall be submitted to the Committee manager by noon on Wednesday or at least 3 days prior to the requested suspension date;

(2) Upon receipt of a written request, the Committee manager shall promptly give reasonable notice to producers and handlers and to the Secretary that an assembled Committee meeting will be held to discuss the request(s). The representative of the Secretary shall attend the meeting via speakerphone or in person, and all votes of the Committee members shall be cast in person;

(3) The Committee members shall consider marketing conditions (i.e., supplies of competing commodities to include quantities in inventory, the expected demand conditions for grapes in different markets, and any pertinent documents which provide data on market conditions), weather conditions, labor shortages, the size of the crop remaining to be marketed, and other pertinent factors in reaching a decision to suspend packing holidays;

(4) Once a vote is taken, any documents utilized during the meeting will be forwarded immediately to the Secretary's representative and a summary of the Committee's action and reasons for recommending approval or disapproval will be prepared and also forwarded by the committee; and

(5) The Secretary's representative shall notify the Committee manager of approval or disapproval of the request prior to commencement of the suspended packing holiday and the Committee manager shall notify handlers and producers accordingly.

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Start Signature

Dated: April 16, 2003.

A.J. Yates,

Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service.

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[FR Doc. 03-9843 Filed 4-21-03; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3410-02-P